Hong Kong air pollution

Half of Hongkongers say public consultation on Lantau Island development was ‘inadequate’

Residents concerned about conservation and worsening air quality as mega bridge to Macau and Zhuhai threatens to bring crowds, traffic and pollution

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 February, 2018, 10:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 February, 2018, 10:01am

At least half of Hong Kong residents polled by a university and a green group believe the consultation exercise for last year’s Sustainable Lantau Blueprint did not do enough to gauge public views.

The study by Baptist University and environmental group Green Power also found that over 70 per cent of respondents were concerned about worsening air quality on the island, and most supported a “conserve first, build after” approach to development.

Launched by the government in June, the blueprint outlined various measures for the island’s future development direction, following the principles of enhancing conservation in the south and development in the north.

Researchers from the university’s College of International Education conducted street polls in Tung Chung, Pui O, Mui Wo and Tai O over October and November and received 302 successful responses – half of whom were Lantau residents, a third of them visitors and the rest worked on Lantau.

While 56 per cent knew about the consultation exercise in June, only 8 per cent felt it was sufficient. About 50 per cent of respondents thought the engagement was inadequate or seriously inadequate and 11 per cent were not sure.

“What this reflects is that even for those who’ve heard about the blueprint, around 60 per cent think the government [did not do] enough to gauge public views,” said Dr Karen Woo Lai-yan, a lecturer at the college.

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Woo observed that many of the “public forums” held as part of the consultation were convened at community centres at inconvenient times. The engagements, she said, also tended to be “a bit one-sided”.

“It’s just the government putting out information. How great is the participation? Probably a bit limited. And even if citizens are able to express their views, how many of them are actually used by the government, and how?”

The survey also found that 71 per cent of respondents expected the air quality to deteriorate with the opening of the bridge linking the city to Zhuhai and Macau later this year – no surprise, given that Tung Chung is one of the towns most frequently affected by unhealthy air days across the city.

Dr Cheng Luk-ki, head of scientific research and conservation at Green Power, pointed out that according to Air Quality Health Index records, Tung Chung ranked first in terms of the number of days where air quality health risks hit “very high” or above between 2014 and 2016.

“You can see that residents’ concerns are not groundless,” he said, urging the government to improve traffic management across the island once the bridge is opened.

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According to the Environmental Protection Department, Tung Chung saw 12 days of the index level hitting its highest, “serious”, health risk last year, second only to Tuen Mun with 13.

Asked what their views were towards fully opening up major roadways including Tung Chung Road from Shek Mun Kap and all roads in Lantau South to the public, 46 per cent backed the status quo by which only permit holders can drive on those roads. Some 54 per cent believed any plan to open roads should take into account environmental factors and the carrying capacity of the roads.

Meanwhile, in terms of development strategy, 61 per cent supported adopting an approach that prioritised conservation before development.

However, 28 per cent believed the opposite, and a further one-third supported opening up some of the island’s country parks for development.

The government’s Sustainable Lantau Office said all views, concerns and suggestions collected during the consultation were reflected in a public engagement report and published on its website.

“On the whole, there is general support for the proposed Lantau development plan and the principles of balanced development and conservation,” a spokesman said.

About 800 public forums, five focus groups and 28 consultation meetings with statutory bodies were held.